On this day in 1840 the French author Emile Zola was born. He was a prolific writer of novels, the best known being Therese Raquin and Germinal.
Brought up in Provence and a friend of Cezanne, he travelled to Paris with the painter and was soon successful. His moment of true glory came during the notorious Dreyfus affair when he wrote an open letter, published in L’Aurore, with the famous headline ‘J’Accuse’, an indictment of the French government’s anti-Semitic attitude. Because of this he was prosecuted and fled briefly to England before returning to a pardon.
One wonders what he would say today. Zola and his wife Alexandrine died of carbon monoxide poisoning perhaps caused by a faulty chimney. He was sixty-two. Years later, a chimney sweep is said to have confessed to blocking the chimney for political reasons, but nothing was proved.
This poem, My Books is by Stephan Mallarme, a contemporary of Zola:
My books closed again on Paphos’ name,
It delights me to choose with solitary genius
A ruin, by foam-flecks in thousands blessed
Beneath hyacinth, far off, in days of fame.
Let the cold flow with its silence of scythes,
I’ll not ululate here in a ‘no’ that’s empty
If this frolic so white near the ground denies
To each site the honour of false scenery.
My hunger regaled by no fruits here I see
Finds equal taste in their learned deficiency:
Let one burst with human fragrance and flesh!
While my love pokes the fire, foot on cold iron
I brood for a long time perhaps with distress
On the other’s seared breast of an ancient Amazon.
Today I will remember that actions have consequences but that inaction also has consequences. I ask for the wisdom to make the right choices.